Illegal cannabis production has its share of downsides, but one we don’t think of often is its potential to cultivate flower with harmful pesticides. Sponsors of the latest bill against illegal marijuana growers are framing it as an effort to protect consumers from pesticides that are often used in unregulated cultivation. Read on to find out what the bill is about.
What is the Latest Bill Against Illegal Marijuana Growers About?
There have been countless federal efforts to cut down on illegal marijuana cultivation. But the latest bill against illegal marijuana growers, called Targeting and Offsetting Illegal Contaminants (TOXIC) Act, is more focused on consumer safety and environmental protection, or at least that’s what sponsors such as Scott Peters (D-CA) are saying.
“No buyer should be unknowingly consuming marijuana contaminated by dangerous, banned pesticides. That’s why (Rep. Doug La Malfa (R-CA) and I introduced the TOXIC Act to go after these illegal cartel-linked grow operations on federal lands.
“The effects go well beyond the end user, endangering multiple species and posing a threat to the Forest Service agents who are tasked with cleaning up these lands,” Peters said.
The Negative Effects of Pesticides
The bill against illegal marijuana growers aims to reduce banned pesticides that pollute the soil and water and poison wildlife. When used in consumer products, they can be considerably damaging to health. Experts feel that creating a regulated cannabis market will reduce health risks for both recreational and medical marijuana users.
Peters and LaMalfa both represent California, a state that has had countless issues with illegal cultivation despite legalization. While most California cities have banned illegal growing, there are several public lands that make it easy for growers to mask their activities. Hence, the problem is ongoing.
La Malfa is not a cannabis supporter, but he is even more against illegal cannabis growth. In fact, he posted a well-known video of himself bulldozing illegal grows alongside law enforcement in 2021. He highlighted the bill against illegal marijuana growers in a press release on Wednesday saying that it is designed to prevent exposure to banned pesticides which are “endangering residents who inadvertently consume it.”
What are the Details of the Bill Against Illegal Marijuana Growers?
The new bill against illegal marijuana growers is a two-tiered approach. It provides up to $250 million in funding to the U.S. Forest Service (UFS) to support a five-year plan that will remediate areas where banned pesticides have been used in illegal cannabis cultivation.
It will also increase penalties against illegal growers with a maximum fine of $250,000 and 20 years in prison. In this regard, convicted growers would be treated similarly to people caught smuggling pesticides.
Other Bills Targeting Illegal Cannabis Cultivation
The latest bill against illegal marijuana growers is just one of many that have come before it. Congressional lawmakers have been doing their part to fund remediation efforts of illegal cultivation through appropriations and defense legislation. For example, last year, Sens. Alex Padilla (D0CA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) proposed a defense bill amendment calling for federal, state, and tribal governments to collaborate on the remediation of lands damaged by illicit cannabis cultivation.
California lawmakers have been working on the state level since 2021 to create a program aimed to help small marijuana cultivators with environmental clean-up and restoration.
Last month, the Federal Fish and Wildlife Service (FDS) announced that the rising expenses associated with obtaining a California marijuana business license are contributing to illegal grow sites which use unauthorized chemicals that are damaging to wildlife and specifically harmful to the endangered spotted owls.
In a separate but related effort, California officials announced the state would be launching a first-of-its-kind grant program to support cities and counties in establishing local cannabis business licensing programs to meet consumer demand and help reduce the illegal market.
The Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) and Local Jurisdiction Retail Access Grant will provide $20 million in funding to localities across the state prioritizing those which have been shown to have the largest ratios between licensed retailers and consumer demand.
Last year, California lawmakers passed a bill aiming to combat the illicit market by eliminating the state cannabis cultivation tax hence reducing legal grower expenses. The bill was signed by Governor Newsom.
In another 2022 legislative action, a pair of GOP lawmakers asked key cabinet officials in the Biden administration to study the environmental impacts of marijuana cultivation in terms of the amount of electricity used. They asked for consideration of the role legislation can play in increasing regulations.
Why Illegal Growing is So Bad for the Environment
The bill against illegal marijuana growers would be beneficial to the environment in many ways. For one, it would help save water.
Cannabis cultivation requires high quantities of water as it is a very water-intensive plant. Illegal cultivators don’t pay for water. Therefore, they deplete systems at even more wasteful rates.
Water theft is also a common issue. In many United States and in Mexico, both legal and illegal growers steal water to harvest their crops using sources other than metered taps. 24 streams have gone dry due to marijuana cultivation diversion in cities in Northern California. The water depletion issue has already caused habitat destruction, threatened wetlands, and endangered entire ecosystems.
A recycled water system could solve the problem, but it would cost up to $5000, a hefty fee for smaller cultivators.
In addition to using a huge amount of water, marijuana cultivation has been linked to high natural gas and electricity consumption that contributes to emissions in staggering amounts.
The link between marijuana cultivation and environmental damage is not easily solved. But it is hopeful that the new bill against illegal marijuana growers will make some headway. We can only wait to see how it all plays out.